In Memory of




Obituary for Donna Eldeen Johnson

On December 18, 2022 we lost a remarkable woman, as Mrs. Donna Johnson (nee Whitney) passed away, going gently into that good night, after a full and meaningful life. Born on the 4th of July in the year of the great depression (1929) in Newcastle, New Brunswick to David and Audrey (nee Mutch) Whitney, she grew up in the nearby town of Whitney, on the shores of the great Miramichi River. Despite the hard times she had a happy childhood and did well in her studies at the town’s one-room schoolhouse, and though she made friends easily with her outgoing demeanor, she had a special friendship with Althea Dunnett (later Matchett), who lived up the road, one that would be life-long. She enjoyed skating on the river in the winter and swimming in it when the weather was warmer, and enjoyed running through the fields and exploring nature. Her love of animals blossomed at this time as she had a special pet - her cat “Foxey”, who she loved dearly.

Donna’s father David was a logger and scaler by profession, and because jobs of that nature were scarce in NB, he had to travel to Northwestern Ontario to find work. Because he was away for long periods of time, this required her to help her mother take care of her four younger brothers, and help with the cooking and other chores, such as milking the cow and feeding the other animals. This extra responsibility earned her the respect of her brothers, who looked up to their older sister as a role model. As a young girl, Donna had a kind heart and dreamt from this young age of helping people by wanting to become a nurse. When she was 12 years old she had her appendix removed and became even more determined to make that dream come true, as she watched the hospital staff care for their patients firsthand.

Donna’s mother Audrey grew downhearted with her husband away for such long periods of time and so, when Donna was 13 years old, her mother put the entire family on a train in order to be with David. They settled first in the town of Pearl and then moved to Port Arthur shortly thereafter, settling into the big white house with the veranda on the corner of Oliver Rd. and Franklin Ave. (now Frankwood). Donna enrolled at Port Arthur Technical and Commercial High School (later Hillcrest) and did well in her studies. Her yearbook write-up in grade 10 said: “She’s going to be a nurse. Who wouldn’t want to be sick now?” and grade 11: “Always at school, always on time. Ambition to be a nurse. Favourite subject - chemistry.” She sang in the school choir and developed her love of harmony singing. In 1948 she graduated with honours with the highest average in her class at “Tech” and was the recipient of a scholarship to help in the pursuit of her dream of becoming a nurse.

In the Fall of that year Donna was accepted into the School of Nursing of the Port Arthur General Hospital for a 3-year diploma course and began her training. That winter, while skating at the Oliver Rd. Rec Centre rink, she met a handsome, young locomotive engineer for the CNR named Melvin Johnson, who would soon become the love of her life. They began seeing each other regularly, when time permitted, attending local dances and driving around in Mel’s Ford.
In 1951, she received her Nursing Diploma along with 12 other classmates, a bond of which was formed between them during the three years of training, and their friendships lasted throughout their lives. Donna volunteered to be Treasurer of the Alumni Association for many years and helped plan their special reunions. She was hired immediately upon graduation by the General and began as a Staff Nurse in the Medical/Surgical Unit for a $169 monthly salary.

Mel’s courtship of Donna lasted three years and they were wed at Zion Lutheran Church on October 11, 1952. The family grew over the years first with the birth of Randy, then followed by Judy, Tim and Danny. Donna was an incredible mother, always giving and supporting. She went out of her way to make sure that birthdays, Christmases, and other occasions were the happiest times for her children. She encouraged them to read books, learn a musical instrument, engage in many pursuits and follow their own path in life and she was a model of moral decency in the way she lived her life. A camp at Shebandowan Lake was purchased in the 60’s and this became a focal point for the family in the summers. She loved saunas and swimming in the lake. It was their paradise on earth.

Meanwhile her career continued alongside the raising of their family. She worked her way up from Staff Nurse to Administrative Supervisor. Then after getting a college administration degree she became Assistant Director of Nursing at the General. When her boss, Dorothy Rorke, was contemplating retirement, she wanted Donna to take over for her, so she recommended that Donna go back to school and get a University degree. In 1972, she received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree from Lakehead University followed by a Diploma in Administrative Management from Confederation College. In 1973, she became a well-respected Director of Nursing at the General, and advanced positive changes in shift rotations, uniforms, and the advocacy of high standards of nursing practise and quality patient care. She had an open-door policy and loved to be more on the floors with her nurses and patients than in her office, always placing the psychological and emotional needs of her patients and her staff first. She served almost 10 years on the Thunder Bay District Health Council and other health and educational boards, demonstrating her commitment and dedication to further the quality of health care and education in this city and region, and making the system more responsible and caring.

In 1981, Donna and Mel began wintering in Harlingen, Texas, a tradition carried on for 30 years, and it became a mecca for friends and relatives from Canada to visit, with Donna in her element as the perfect host. In 1989, she retired, and her family was proud and humbled at her retirement dinner by the outpouring of respect and admiration for her by her colleagues and what she had accomplished in her 4 decade career in the health care field. In 2003, they purchased a condo at Hilldale Gardens and forged new friendships there. That same year, Tim and wife Debbie gave birth to their precious grandson, Charlie, and they become proud and doting grandparents who loved every opportunity to see him. He brought immense happiness to them.

Donna was a vibrant and outgoing lady who loved to laugh and her smile lit up a room. Throughout her life one of her most rewarding passions was to plan special get-togethers for her friends, colleagues and extended family. She loved to entertain and cook for her guests and she planned every one of these occasions as unique, with hundreds of recipes in her repertoire. She also loved to travel, enjoyed reading novels, playing bridge, golfing, dancing, doing needlepoint and painting. She loved music and was a beautiful singer, and often she and Mel could be seen sitting side-by-side, harmonizing together on country songs, gospel hymns and standards of the day, a precious family memory. Their favourite song was “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”. She was a dedicated chronicler of all of these experiences, and took thousands of pictures over the years, making sure every moment was recorded for posterity. If you visited the house in the 70’s and 80’s you would often see her favourite cat, “Cato”, curled on her lap. She was a longtime member of Immanuel Lutheran Church and was always generous with donations to dozens of various charities annually.

The last few years presented some challenges for Donna, with Mel’s passing and her own health issues. In 2018, she moved into Chartwell Arundel and started a new chapter in her life. Donna’s family would like to thank all of the staff at Chartwell for making her feel comfortable - especially Barb and Susan for their kind, personal care. Special thanks to family friend Bev Bruzzese for her care and friendship.

Donna is survived by her children Randy (Cathy), Judy, Tim (Debbie and grandson Charlie) and Danny. Also survived by brothers Arnott (& Lorna) Whitney and Buddy Whitney, and sisters-in-law Raili Whitney and Darlene Whitney, as well as nieces and nephews. Predeceased by parents David and Audrey Whitney, brothers Merlyn and Royden Whitney, sister-in-law Roberta Whitney and loving husband, Melvin, (as well as Mel’s brothers, sisters and in-laws).

Online condolences may be expressed at

A celebration of life for Donna will happen in the spring or summer, when the weather is warm, as per her request.

Donna lived a full and happy life. Because she lived, she created and nurtured a family, made life better for many people, and made a difference in this world. She was deeply loved, will be forever missed, and always remembered.